Picture this: you’re on vacation in the Florida Keys enjoying the warm, humid weather at the beach, when all of a sudden you notice what looks like a tornado on the water. What you have just witnessed is a phenomenon known as a waterspout. Waterspouts typically occur in the tropics and subtropics, but can also occur in other areas such as the Great Lakes. But what exactly is a waterspout?
A waterspout is a column of spinning air, or a vortex, that occurs over water. There are two different categories of waterspouts: tornadic and non-tornadic. Tornadic waterspouts form in the same way as a tornado that would form over land and are associated with severe thunderstorms. The primary difference between a tornado and a tornadic waterspout is that a tornadic waterspout occurs over water. This can refer either to tornadoes that form over water or tornadoes that form over land and then move over water.
Non-tornadic waterspouts are not formed in severe thunderstorms, and are often referred to as fair-weather waterspouts as they are associated with developing cumulus towers. Non-tornadic waterspouts typically move very slowly, if they move at all, since the clouds they are associated with are developing through vertical convective action rather than through the collision of moving frontal boundaries. Non-tornadic waterspouts go through five stages of development. The first is the appearance of a light-colored disk surrounded by a larger, darker colored area on the water. The second stage of development is characterized by a spiral pattern of light and dark bands outside of the dark spot on the water. A swirling ring of sea spray, called a cascade, then develops around the dark spot. As the waterspout continues to develop, it will form a visible funnel that extends between the water’s surface and the dark flat base of the developing cumulus cloud. The final stage of a waterspout’s life cycle occurs when the inflow of warm air into the vortex of the waterspout weakens causing the waterspout to dissipate.
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©2018 Meteorologist Stephanie Edwards
Fascinating Meteorology Terms: Haboob
A Haboob is what a lot of local arid climate residents call a dust storm. “Haboob” is a term derived from the Arabic word “habb” meaning “wind”. This type of dust storm is created from a strong thunderstorm downdraft called a downburst. Starting as a downdraft of cold air descending from a storm, the cold dense air hits the ground at a strong speed and extends outward. The strong outward flowing wind sweeps up dry sand and dirt from the ground as it travels. This doesn’t always happen with every storm. Haboobs are unique and only occur in certain parts of the world. Areas that frequently see weather like this are arid climates, mostly dry with little trees and sandy soil. Places that have these types of climates are Northern Africa: specifically Sudan and the Saharan Desert, The Middle East, Australia, and in North America: such as western Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. These storms will occur more frequently in these areas during the summer and/or Monsoon seasons.
The wind from a Haboob can carry dust long distances and can be rather intense reaching up to 62 miles wide and traveling up to 62 miles per hour. They approach with little to no warning and can recede just as quickly. You can typically see a Haboob before it reaches your area because these dust clouds are thick and brown with tons of sand, dirt, and debris. Just as soon as you see one approaching, it is already starting to affect your area. What makes these storms so dangerous is how quickly they appear and how quickly they reduce visibility down to almost zero. In these conditions, it is important to pull over when driving and wait until the Haboob has passed. High winds can whip small particles like dust and sand, pelting anything that stands in the way. This can be hazardous to a person's respiratory system. Small particles can enter your nose and mouth making breathing difficult, triggering severe irritation to the throat and lungs. Eyes and ears can also be infiltrated by these particles causing painful irritation. Before a Haboob passes your area, It is important to find shelter immediately if you are outside. The high winds of a Haboob also have the ability to blow dust and sand into cracks. It is essential to close all windows, doors and block cracks and vents with rags to prevent dust particles from entering your home or place of shelter.
Haboobs can sometimes be mistaken for Sandstorms. Sandstorms and Haboobs, although look similar, embody different characteristics. Sandstorms usually occur with and are created by high winds as Haboobs originate from thunderstorms only. Sandstorms tend to be more widespread and near the surface as Haboobs are concentrated in a more localized area. Sandstorms also occur strictly in desert like climates when Haboobs can be frequent in both desert and dry arid steppe climates like dry, grassy plains. Sandstorms tend to carry heavier particles like sand and small rocks, near the surface. Since these particles are heavier they don’t get suspended in the air as easily as smaller dust particles carried by a Haboob. Sandstorm winds are stronger but typically aren't as turbulent as Haboob winds.
A very interesting and unique meteorological term, Haboob has quite a ring to it. It’s certainly something you won’t forget. If this really interested you, stay tuned for the next article in the series of Fascinating Meteorology Terms. We will be turning to a more wintery type of weather to discuss the term “Graupel”. Some of you northerners might recognize it!
© 2018 Meteorologist Alex Maynard
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Understanding the Coastal Low-Pressure Transfer Process. (Imagery Credit: Meteorologist Tomer Burg)
DISCUSSION: During a given Winter season, there can sometimes be a substantial threat for high-impact winter storms along the East Coast of the United States. This often occurs as a result of there being an offshore to semi-coastal temperature gradient in place which acts to “fuel” the development of coastal low-pressure systems during the Winter-time months. The fundamental component which is most often responsible for the development of such Winter-time low-pressure systems are the climatological development of a weak low-pressure system in the vicinity of the Gulf Coast region of the United States.
As the typical weak low-pressure systems which develop in the vicinity of the Gulf Coast region “skip” across the peninsula of the state of Florida and “ride up” along usually a good portion of the U.S. East Coast, this is around the time at which the classical winter storm stage is set. This is the conventional situation in which a classical Nor’easter is identified most often. As shown in the animated radar imagery above, you can see how this was not quite the scenario described above since this system developed in the vicinity of the southern Great Lakes before travelling eastward. Thus, this is the type of coastal winter storm development which is most often referred to as “coastal secondary low-pressure transfer.” This recent winter storm perfectly exemplified this type of scenario which still ended in a substantial accumulating snowfall event across a good portion of the Northeast.
You can see how with this storm, there was heavy rain, snow, and ice on the east side of the winter storm (i.e., within the warm sector of the low-pressure system). This still led to a good portion of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and beyond receiving a high-impact winter weather event. It just goes to show how it does not necessarily need to be the heart of Winter to experience an all-out winter storm along the East Coast of the United States.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz
How will the Onset of the New GOES-West Satellite Imager Advance Atmospheric Research?
DISCUSSION: As of earlier today, history was made over in the Eastern/Central Pacific Ocean basin. Science researchers from around the world continued to be even more optimistic about the future of atmospheric and climate research. This optimistic and confident sentiment is a direct result of the newest and final position of the GOES-West (formerly GOES-17) satellite imager being declared as having reached its final position in its orbit around planet Earth. This is a truly historic and memorable day in the history of atmospheric science research as well as atmospheric forecasting since this satellite imager now matches up with its sister satellite (i.e., the GOES-East satellite imager) to help monitor and study an even greater portion of North America and beyond the scope of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. This is incredibly meaningful since it allows both forecasters and researchers to get even greater detail than ever before in areas further west than the current GOES-East (or GOES-16) satellite imager viewing window could ever accommodate. Hence, this is a tremendous step forward for the future of advancing science and our ability to better understand both the Earth's atmosphere and the Earth's ever-evolving climate system.
It goes without saying that the assets and the resources which will be provided by GOES-West will quickly become incredible valuable and precious to the global atmospheric science and climate science community as times moves along. The combined resources from the GOES-East and GOES-West satellite imagers will be immensely powerful in the current and future ability of atmospheric forecasters and researchers alike to make even more timely and accurate predictions and projections for various forecast scenarios across the coverage domains of the respective satellite imagers. Thus, the combined capabilities of these respective satellite imagers will continue to forever change the ways and the resolution at which we will now able to observe and track various atmospheric phenomena over an even larger region than atmospheric science previously was able to. Hence, GOES-West is taking the advanced remote sensing era to even higher heights.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz
DISCUSSION: As we head through Fall and every into every incoming Winter season, many people often continue to ponder and wonder about various things and mysteries pertaining to winter weather. One such thing which people wonder about during Winter is how and why snowfall forms during various types of winter weather events. Attached below is a neat discussion courtesy of the Met Office over in the United Kingdom which describes how and why snowfall forms.
“What is snow?
Snow is defined as 'solid precipitation which occurs in a variety of minute ice crystals at temperatures well below 0 °C but as larger snowflakes at temperatures near 0 °C'. It is one of the UK's most striking weather phenomena causing a transformation of the world around us, but it can also lead to the potential for disruption.
How does snow form?
Snow forms when tiny ice crystals in clouds stick together to become snowflakes. If enough crystals stick together, they'll become heavy enough to fall to the ground.
Snowflakes that descend through moist air that is slightly warmer than 0 °C will melt around the edges and stick together to produce big flakes. Snowflakes that fall through cold, dry air produce powdery snow that does not stick together.
Snow is formed when temperatures are low and there is moisture in the atmosphere in the form of tiny ice crystals.
How cold does it have to be to snow?
Precipitation falls as snow when the air temperature is below 2 °C. It is a myth that it needs to be below zero to snow. In fact, in this country, the heaviest snowfalls tend to occur when the air temperature is between zero and 2 °C. The falling snow does begin to melt as soon as the temperature rises above freezing, but as the melting process begins, the air around the snowflake is cooled.
Snowfall can be defined as 'slight', 'moderate' or 'heavy'. When combined with strong winds, a snowfall can create blizzards and drifts. If the temperature is warmer than 2 °C then the snowflake will melt and fall as sleet rather than snow, and if it's warmer still, it will be rain.”
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© 2018 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz
DISCUSSION: There is no doubt that weather forecasting has evolved quite a bit over the past 40 to 50 years (i.e., since the onset of the remote sensing era). Having said that, it is worth noting that there are still many fundamental things which have not changed all that much in the weather forecasting process and there are many profoundly valuable reasons for these long-term techniques testing the sands of time. One such tool which fits this criterion is the world-famous weather balloon.
The primary reason for why the use of weather balloons has remained to be such a key part of the regional, national, and global forecast process is the fact that weather balloons have the unique ability of measuring local and/or regional vertical profiles of temperature, moisture, wind speed, wind direction, and more pertinent details of the atmosphere. Upon measuring the vertical profiles of these meteorological parameters, they are nearly instantly transmitted back to recording devices back in National Weather Service offices and other locations across the country based on their individual launch locations. Thus, weather balloons allow atmospheric scientists to study the atmosphere to better understand and predict how the lower to middle levels of the atmosphere may influence localized and regional weather conditions over some period of time.
Also, the fundamental premise of a weather balloon is such a versatile and reliable form of atmospheric data because the primary weather balloon measuring device known as a radiosonde will always fall back down to the surface of Earth after every launch with the support of a parachute. Thus, allowing the primary atmospheric measuring device to be reused repeatedly on a routine basis. Moreover, it is one of the few forms of meteorological measurement which has not changed over many decades and will likely not change for quite some time to come. Furthermore, radiosondes (and their close twin known as a dropsonde which is dropped from hurricane reconnaissance aircraft during hurricane research missions) are often used even more often both prior to and during winter storm as well as tropical storm events in different parts of the world. Thus, weather balloons have been, are, and will continue to be a critical part of global forecast process.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz